The Braves’ Secret Bromance with the Twins

You may have noticed some chemistry between a couple of MLB teams lately. A little somethin’ somethin’. You know. They’re trying to hide it but we ain’t blind; every time you see one of ’em, there’s the other, doin’ the same thing, just across the way in the other league.

Yep. The Braves and the Twins have something going on.

You probably noticed that the Twins and Braves both started 0-9. I’m not going to lie; there being another team matching Atlanta’s comprehensively garbage start to the season helped me cope a little.

But that’s not it. You probably also have noticed that both teams have now gone on a 3-game winning streak.  That’s just uncanny.

Let me accentuate the impression I hope to make here with some historical colorings, courtesy of Baseball Reference’s Play Index (which you should subscribe to), and my weak-ass Excel skills.

Bob-Ross-2

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Since 1871, only 21 teams have started 0-9. That’s over the course of 145 seasons. That’s a lot of opportunities for teams to really go belly up for 9 games. It speaks to the mathematical marvel that is baseball. Even in the early days of the organized game, when there was less parity than we have now, it was very unlikely to lose 9 games in a row. The ball is just about bound to bounce your way more often than that.

I need to choose an average number of teams per season from 1871 to 2016, but it’s not readily available to me. I’m going with 18, which I think is conservative. This gives us an estimate of 2610 chances for teams to start 0-9, and 21 occurrences of it. Using these numbers, we uncover a historical frequency of 0.008 for teams earning this dubious accolade. Of course, not all teams are equally suited to start 0-9 in the first place. The Braves were quite likely to sport a poor record in the first half. But the fact that it’s happened so few times… well, that speaks for itself.

Now, this article is about the weird tear in space time that allowed the Twins to become the AL dimension’s version of the Braves (poor chaps, they never had a chance). So how rare is it for not one but two teams to start 0-9 during the same season?

It’s happened 5 times. Using our arbitrary but probably not-too-far-off estimate of 2610 team seasons above, we end up with a frequency of 0.0019. We’re talking nearly unprecedented stuff. But let’s go further.

Is there precedent for 2 teams starting this epically bad together, and then continuing their synchronicity for 3 or more games? No. No there is not.

Here’s the closest thing, though. I don’t want to hype it up, but this ending up being quite an entertaining little nugget. I hope you’ll agree.

In 1875, the New Haven Elm Citys (yep, that’s right), and, get this, the WASHINGTON NATIONALS, both marched bravely forth to an 0-11 record. Washington finally relented and won game 12. Ahhhhh. That’s pretty satisfying that it was a Washington Nationals team. But that’s really not the good part.

If you peruse the same message boards and Braves-y internet groups as I, then you have probably gotten a depressing chuckle recently out of someone cracking wise that “the Braves and Twins are set to play this summer, so one of them will definitely get a win eventually.” It’s a funny observation.

It must have been an even funnier reality in 1875, when the Nationals finally got their first win by sweeping a two game series against their former bedmates in loss-accumulation, none other than the New Haven Elm Citys. They literally played out our funny  joke; two teams staggered to an 0-11 start, while the rest of the league snickered “can’t wait to see those heavy weights go at it,” and only then could one of them get a W. Too bad it was the Nationals, given New Haven’s clearly superior name.

So, wrapping up here, the Braves and Twins mutually hold a strange record that I have spent my free time uncovering, for the joy of a precious few. In sum: out of the 21 teams in baseball’s 145 year recorded history that have blundered to 0-9, the 2016 Braves and Twins represent one of only 5 pairs of teams to pull this off together in one season. Of those 5 pairs, they are the ONLY duo to then continue to match each others W/L patterns for 3 or more games.

Just in case you’re bad at sharing, Braves fans, I’ll leave you with one more fun fact. There have been only 2 pairs of teams in baseball to start the same season 0-9 together since 1900. The Braves were part of both. They shared an 0-10 start with the Orioles back in 1988.

Is that cool? I’m not sure. Let’s just hope the Braves and Twins keep this magical wormhole set to the “both of us stay on a winning streak” setting for a while.

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Modern Pastime Ender Inciarte injury

Impact of Ender Inciarte’s Injury on Braves

The season started! Whoo hoo!

That said, the top story for your at the time of writing 0 – 3 Bravos is not a pleasant one. Center fielder and leadoff hitter Ender Inciarte is day-to-day with a hamstring injury. The speedy Venezuelan was lifted from Friday’s game as he was trying to leg out a grounder. Earlier in that game, I felt like I noticed Ender wince while going back on a ball in center field. This seems to fit the storyline, according to beat writer Mark Bowman via Twitter:

Dave O’Brien of the AJC echoed this optimism in his article on the injury and here:

From O’Brien’s article, some less reassuring undertones from Ender himself:

“I depend on my legs so it’s frustrating that I’ve been having hamstring issues since last year. It’s a different leg but hopefully it’s not going to be that bad.”

Gulp. Ender missed a month last year to hamstring trouble, after all.

We can find a silver lining in that Inciarte removed himself before sustaining a serious injury. What we can take “serious” to mean is up for interpretation, though. Particularly for a player that thrives on speed to provide value in all facets of his game, a hamstring tweak can linger.

So What Now?

It seems likely that the Braves will just trot Drew Stubbs out there until Ender is back. That’ll do for now, as Stubbs is still capable of providing above league average defense in center. We shouldn’t expect him to set the table with much effectiveness at the leadoff spot though; in a small-ish sample of 140 Plate Appearances last year, Stubbs’ OBP was a cellar-dwelling .283. In fairness, 2015 was well below his career marks offensively. But Stubbs drawback has always been his inability to minimize strike outs, so as to get on base more often and better utilize his speed tool.

As a matter of fact, Stubbs owns the 12th worst K% in the bigs since 2009 when he broke in. He has struck out in 30.3% of his plate appearances. Not exactly who you want at the top of your lineup. Fun fact: former Brave Juan Francisco is at the top of the K% list since 2009 with a 34.4% mark. Atta boy, Juan.

UPDATE: So far it looks like the Braves are going with Erick Aybar at the top of the lineup. Aybar is a marginally better suited hitter at getting on base. He accomplishes this by making a ton of contact; he swings at pitches in the strike zone well above the league average rate, and makes contact with those pitches an amazingly efficient 93.7% of the time. Though he is speedy, Aybar doesn’t translate this contact in to a very impressive OBP or AVG, though. It’s possible he will be able to intentionally see more pitches and walk more in the leadoff role. Time will tell… hopefully he won’t be there long. 

What the Braves lose with Inciarte out is pretty significant. You’re taking a step down offensively and defensively by sliding Stubbs in. For instance, check out the Statcast breakdown of Inciarte’s stupid good catch against the Nats. 

Or just glimpse this gif if you can’t bear to leave Modern Pastime for a moment (it is nice here):

modern pastime ender inciarte gif

Inciarte’s absence is compounded by the fact that he was hitting in important spot in the order, in front of what should be a pretty consistent run-producing trio with Eric Aybar, Freddie Freeman and Adonis Garcia. The Braves must especially find ways to squeeze all of the run outcomes out of Freeman’s production if they hope to be a scrappy offense that can compete on most days. Stubbs likely doesn’t serve that purpose, unless he miraculously turns around his OBP woes.

Informed fans may be speculating at this point how any extended Inciarte absence may affect the ascent of Mallex Smith to Atlanta. If you don’t know Mallex yet, catch up here via the venerable Ben Chase of Tomahawk Take, my other writing habitat. Optimistically speculating about our promising youngsters is going to be a must for our sanity this season. Keep in mind though, that the Braves will be unlikely to rush Smith unless the 2016 club is looking like a contender that he could help to improve.

So let’s hope 3 things, Braves fans: 

  1. Ender is back in the lineup soon.
  2. His production is not limited upon returning by any lingering effects, physical or psychological.
  3. This hammy thing will be a thing of the past, as opposed to a recurring ticket on the DL train.

Hurry on back, Ender! You’re glowing early work in center has been comforting to behold so far.

Now this, just for fun:

inciarte miller

Yep. That’s then-Brave Shelby Miller robbing then-DBack Inciarte. In another universe, it could be said.

 

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The Confusing Orioles Off-Season And Its Aftermath

The Baltimore Orioles enter the 2016 season with a lineup that should be very fun to watch and most likely another above average defense, yet the club maybe has put themselves into a “now or never” situation, thanks to a confusing off-season. Baltimore gave a bunch of free agent money to Chris Davis and added a few other bats. Meanwhile, the club has a bad farm system and gave up the #14 pick in this year’s draft to sign Yovani Gallardo in a very weak attempt to improve a very weak starting rotation. When you consider there is no help coming from the farm any time soon and that Mark Trumbo, Pedro Alvarez, and Matt Wieters will be free agents after 2016, the Orioles have gotten themselves into a position where they might have to win now. Unfortunately, while the offense should be setting off fireworks all summer, the starting rotation appears to be one that is incapable of doing their fair share.

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Adam Jones is a leader

Let’s recap how the Orioles got into this position. In December, the O’s traded for Mark Trumbo. At the time, the move made some sense. Trumbo is a power hitter that could do some serious damage in Camden Yards during the summer. The move also gave Baltimore a safety net at 1B if contract talks with Chris Davis did not bear any fruit. However in January, Davis signed a 7 year/$161 million contract with the club (with some of that money deferred over the next 2 decades). It was a big gamble, but not necessarily a bad signing, as Davis is good fit at OPACY and is coming off another great year in terms of power and OBP. Where it gets confusing is in early March when the Orioles signed Pedro Alvarez to a one year, $5.75 million contract. Not exactly an overpay when you consider what Alvarez is capable of providing at the plate (projected to slash around .245/.322./478 with 25+ home runs). However, Alvarez is an extreme liability in the field (1B or 3B), meaning his role will almost entirely be as DH, pushing Trumbo or Davis into the OF (where neither is good) or maybe Davis to 3rd and Manny Machado to SS (not ideal). The Orioles were already going to have a powerful lineup, so there really wasn’t a real need to add Alvarez’ bat at the expense of their defense. Read More